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Police executions push Kenya to dark days

Kenya
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Lawyers and civil society organizations at Uhuru Park ready to protest against police executions. by Henry Owino

Kenyans fear for their lives. This is because police execution is fast becoming rampant in the country, even though police are mandated to protect the people. The heightened public concern comes amid disappearances of witnesses, detainees, suspects and prominent business people who are often found dead.

The most recent example of the killing of human rights lawyer Willie Kimani, his client, Josephat Mwendwa, and a motorcycle taxi driver Joseph Muiruri, is fresh in the mind of most Kenyans.

Kimani was representing his client Mwendwa, a motorbike rider who had been shot and injured by police in April. Mwendwa has faced a spate of harassment by police since he filed a statement to authorities that a police officer unfairly mishandled him.

Muiruri, a taxi driver on the other hand, picked up the duo as his passengers after a court hearing on 23 June at Mavoko Law Courts in Machakos County, about 40km east of Nairobi. The three men are said to have been abducted by police on their way back to the capital city and taken to Mlolongo police station where their communication network was cut.

Relatives, friends and colleagues raised alarms over their disappearance, demanding to know from police their whereabouts but no answers were forth coming. Every effort by lawyers to reach out to the disappeared hit a snag.

Kenyan police handle a female suspect in Nairobi, Kenya.

Henry Owino

According to eyewitnesses, the trio was last seen in the police station basement cell shortly after the court hearing. Unfortunately, they were all murdered and five days later their decomposing bodies – with hands tied behind their backs – were recovered by residents of Ol-Donyo Sabuk River in Kilimambogo, Machakos County.

Isaac Okero, Chairman of the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) said most of the lawyers pursuing criminal cases in court, such as Kimani was, are at risk. They receive death threats, intimidation or are forced to take bribes and drop such cases. Refusal to co-operate has landed many lawyers into trouble.

‘In this country, we have seen witnesses disappear and suspects go missing. For instance, International Criminal Court (ICC) witnesses were intimidated and forced to withdraw, a few recanted their evidence yet others disappeared and were later found dead,’ Okero said.

Okero pointed out that suspects arrested by police, such as those from the Al Shabaab militia group, have never been taken to court for trial. Nobody knows where they normally end up. 'It could be anyone’s guess', said Okero. The LSK chairman claimed that the three police suspected of murdering the lawyer, his client and taxi driver, may be set free in the next few weeks. This would not be exceptional. He emphasized that it would not be enough to fire the police officers alone.

‘Extra judicial killing among Kenyan police is being normalized and this is taking our country back to dark days. As lawyers, we condemn this practice. To show our solidarity for our fallen colleague, we down our tools for one week in protest,’ Okero declared.

There is no justification of taking away life

In defending the police officers’ misconduct and rampant killings, Charles Owino, police spokesperson said that in any big family, there must always be at least one person with bad behavior. He admitted that the three who were murdered were killed by police officers who have since been placed in custody pending investigations and possibly charges.

Owino stated that there are more than 100,000 police officers, both regular and administrative, countrywide. He affirmed that all the officers are trained and know that, as police officers, their sole mandate is to protect citizens.

‘We have a constitutional mandate to protect all citizens regardless of their background. Again, we are a large family of police officers so blanket condemnation is unfair,’ he repeated.

Owino blamed citizens for casting a negative attitude on Kenya's police, arguing that there are no other police from outside who will come to protect Kenyans apart from their own officers. He denied the term extrajudicial killing, explaining that it is a misplaced word used by media to paint police as murderers.

'We don’t have death-squads in the police unit. Neither do we have extrajudicial killers. These words are a media creation to form a notion among citizens that police are their enemies,' Owino, the police spokesperson, refuted.

However, in the coastal region, several families blame police for missing loved ones, relatives and friends. The Human Rights Commission has identified 86 cases of people missing while in custody in the coastal region.

Between January and April this year, 53 people have been shot dead by police across Kenya. Last year, there were 126 cases of those missing and murdered. In 2014 there were 199 cases.

Abdi Farah Noor's son is among those missing. He was arrested by police in the coastal Mombasa County and, soon after, went missing. His efforts to demand his son’s whereabouts have not bore fruit. Instead, police take him from one detention centre to another, 'without any tangible clue,' says Noor. He now wants human right lawyers to help him pursue the matter in court so as to know his son's destiny.

Kenyan police using excessive force to arrest a suspect in Nairobi, Kenya.

Henry Owino

'My son was arrested by police and detained but my questions are: which police station was he detained? For how long was he detained before appearing in court? Is my son dead or alive? I demand to know,' Noor questioned bitterly.

Elsewhere in Kwale County, Hemedi Salim Hemedi was arrested by police almost two years ago and also went missing. Hemedi was arrested in connection to drug trafficking while with friends in a Mosque praying. His family still searches for him.

Police claimed Hemedi jumped out of a moving vehicle that was escorting him to police custody for interrogations. However, family members say they last saw their son on a news hour video clip with his hands cuffed and held by two police officers heading to an unidentified police station.

'The last time we saw, our son, he was wearing his white hijap with hands chained, being escorted by two police from a vehicle to a police station that was not easy to identify,' a family member claimed.

About two months ago a prominent business person, Jacob Juma, was murdered on his way home from work by police. His body was later found dumped in his car. According to local media, the deceased may have been killed elsewhere and his body dragged to the scene.

Juma had hinted on social media that there may be big names behind Kenya's 'Euro Bond Saga', in which nearly one billion dollars of public money disappeared in a corruption scandal. It is alleged that the people involved are thought to be in the current regime and could not let Juma embarrass them.

Juma was allegedly trailed for two weeks before his murder. According to reliable sources in media, his execution had been planned for three days. The gun used to kill Juma has not yet been traced.

International constitutional lawyers now say that, as far as human life is concerned, Kenya has the worst police record. They caution that, unless something is done urgently, it might get out of control and, soon, citizens could target police.

'There is no justification for taking a life. The value of life in Kenya is almost becoming like that of a chicken. In fact, many lives have been lost silently by police but this time the voice of lawyers brought the true picture of police killings to the public domain,' Peter Kiama, human rights defender, claimed.

Critics say that the matter is serious because it has happened to a high ranking member of society, magnifying the rogue police officers. It reveals that there is no central power of command within the police service and rogue officers have backing from senior government officials.

'It seems like hell has broken loose: men and women in uniform competing in execution. The more one kills, the higher rank they are posted,' critics claimed.

Retired Justice Willy Mutunga put it another way, the 'drums of war are sounding in Kenya'. Police are becoming more brutal and citizens blame the government for much of the problem.